Recently a colleague confided that she was looking forward to many aspects of retirement but was dreading the sendoff — the ‘event’ where she would be recognized and feted. This sentiment was echoed in speaking with another friend who told me that he had been adamant about not wanting any dinner or reception or other event at the time of his departure. This came from a man who had many accomplishments during a long career as Executive Director of a large children’s mental health centre. He went on to state that he felt uncomfortable with board members, colleagues and staff members making speeches about his career — some that would be genuine and some that may be gratuitous.
These comments worried me as the retirement reception to celebrate my career as Executive Director approached. I knew that staff members and the board president were planning an event that would honour my accomplishments in leading two not-for-profit children’s mental health centres and a large provincial advocacy organization. I knew that speakers would summarize many years of service. I knew that many friends and colleagues would attend — as would my family. I also knew that after the recognition speeches I would be expected to give my own speech with reflections about my professional life and with comments thanking those who assisted my during a career that spanned 40 years as a professional in children’s services.
Let me be clear — public speaking has been part of my work and I have successfully mastered the podium. I recognized, however, that there was a vast difference between a professional presentation and a talk on my own life and career.
As the date approached my feelings were mixed. I worried that I might be embarrassed and/or emotional as I listened to the accolades. I worried that those speakers who knew me well would ‘roast’ me with stories that should remain untold. I was uncertain that I wanted public reminders of past accomplishments fearing that I would be judged as wanting to live in the past. A few days before the event I realized that this event was not only about ‘me’ but was also about others — people who needed to say good-bye to me and who needed an occasion like a retirement reception as a marker that something was ending.
This realization helped me to readjust my thinking. To my surprise I began to look forward to the retirement reception. I wrote and re-wrote a speech. I practised the speech. The words provided an opportunity to share personal reflections on leaving a professional career and reflections on the transition to another phase of my life. I incorporated the development of this blog as a forum to allow posts about the journey to retirement and as a forum for postwork savvy. I also included thank yous — to people who helped and supported me.
The retirement reception was celebratory. It was an opportunity to greet friends and colleagues from the past and to receive heartfelt congratulations on a successful career and sincere good wishes for retirement. The speeches were sincere with opportunities for reminiscences. Comments from those who I had mentored, coached and supervised made me realize that I had been a role model and a guide for many others. There were gifts and cards and congratulatory notes. My heart was filled with overwhelming gratitude.
In retrospect, the retirement event is not something to be ‘survived’ but rather it is an event that is a marker that allows you to enter the post work period of life. Here are my tips for those experiencing a mix of dread and anticipation of the retirement ‘event’.
- Recognize that this is an important marker in your life journey. Just like graduations, weddings, funerals and other events that our culture marks with a formal type of ceremony, the retirement event is a the formal good-bye to your work place and to many of your colleagues.
- Recognize that its about other people as much as it is about you. People need to separate from you and to identify that the relationships will change. This is a time for others to say thank you and to recognize that you have been important to them.
- Prepare yourself. Write a speech and practise the speech. Think about what you will say and how you will say it. Decide how you will recognize, acknowledge and thank those who have helped you. Identify which of your many reflections you want to share with others and which you will keep private.
- Invite those who are significant to you to attend. Your family and close friends may not know much about your professional life. They have not directly shared your professional experiences. They also want to celebrate this important milestone in your life. Remember that it’s not just about you.
- Enjoy the celebration. You have earned the recognition and the accolades. Bask in the acknowledgements and be happy that those around you delight in your accomplishments.
It is now a few days since the retirement reception. I remain overwhelmed with feelings of gratitude. I am aware that this phase of my career is over and now feel more prepared for the post work era of my life.